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Better Silviculture in Mexico

Latin Equipment Norte (LEN) took over the Mexican territory as an official Tigercat Dealer in 2018. José Carlos Rocha Filho, LEN’s marketing and commercial manager, relates his experiences as he ventures into silviculture practices to support customer success and sustainability-related land preparation goals.

Tigercat first profiled the Mexico-based renewable forestry company, Proteak in the pages of this magazine back in 2016. Since then, the company has been continuously expanding and enhancing its operational activities throughout the southern region of the country. In addition to its eucalyptus and teak plantations, Proteak also owns and operates a high-capacity mill in the Tabasco state, producing MDF. With an annual mill input of over 550 000 cubic metres (approximately 550 000 tons), it currently produces over 260 000 cubic metres of fibreboard and 31 000 cubic metres of biomass per year, while employing more than 1,000 people. Proteak also manages an exotic wood trade division, exporting high quality plantation-grown teak round logs and sawn lumber to markets in Europe and Asia.

Forestry in Mexico

Southern Mexico has very favourable growing conditions to produce a diversity of high-quality forest plantations. In addition, current and forecasted domestic and export demand for its timber has created unique opportunities for the Mexican forestry sector. Currently, the country has over 760 000 hectares (1.9 million acres) suitable for plantations. Of that, 150 000 hectares (370,600 acres) are planted, comprised of various eucalyptus and pine species, gmelina, teak (Tectona grandis), and Acacia mangium. The main products derived from the plantations include round logs, sawn lumber, pulp, plywood, chips, and industrial products.

Proteak’s plantations are clear-felled on six-year rotations using full-tree harvesting systems. Post-harvest, the cut blocks typically contain residual wood material and debris that hampers accessibility for subsequent silvicultural activities.

Mulching is the first post-harvest operation that occurs on the cut block. Its purpose is to shred the logging residue, branches, stumps, and any remaining undergrowth. The second stage involves the use of a Savannah 340 plow to mound the material, preparing a planting bed up to 45 cm (18 in) above ground level, and subsoiling with a single swept shank to a depth of 40-50 cm (15 to 19 in). The raised beds are usually required to prevent the seedlings from drowning, and to promote more robust root development.
Since 2013, Proteak had been performing these two stages of site preparation using two Tigercat M726E mulchers, along with three four-wheel drive agricultural tractors pulling the Savannah bedding plows. With a limited work season of seven months in good conditions, this system could prepare approximately 60-80 hectares (150-195 acres) per week or about 2 000 hectares (5,000 acres) per year.

The challenge

In the absence of a purpose-built prime mover to pull the plows, regular agriculture tractors are commonly seen in silviculture operations throughout southern Mexico. These tractors are not designed to work in post-harvest sites. According to Luis Pacheco, Proteak’s maintenance manager, the long-term use of ag tractors in silvicultural applications can significantly increase operating costs and negatively impact production targets due to excessive mechanical repair and downtime. He also claims that because of low ground clearance and reduced tire flotation, some of these machines are very susceptible to bog down in soft soil conditions, typical of the plantation land in this region.

Proteak’s goal is to plant over 3 000 hectares (7,400 acres) of land per season, representing a 50% increase. Upon assessing several factors, such as production targets, sustainability goals, safety, uptime requirements, and the aging fleet, in late 2020 LEN proposed a Tigercat purpose-built site preparation machinery system to address the silvicultural challenge once and for all.

Optimal silviculture solution

In late 2020 Tigercat broadened its mulcher line-up with the larger, and more capable 760B. This 550 hp mulcher was primarily designed for high production, large-scale post- harvest applications. Furthermore, Tigercat also agreed to customize a 630H skidder, fitting it with a drawbar in order to act as the prime mover for the plow system. This provided the purpose-built alternative to ag tractors that LEN and Proteak were seeking in order to meet the productivity goals.

At the end of 2021, the 760B mulcher arrived in Mexico. Fitted with the Tigercat 4061-30 mulching head, the machine produces a three metre wide swath. The boom float system enables the head to follow ground contours automatically. The machine has accomplished solid performance and production results in the first months of operation. Operating costs are the key factor, and due to hydraulic efficiency and quick working travel speed, production per litre of fuel consumed is superior to comparable products.

In tropical conditions where ambient temperatures commonly reach over 40°C (104°F), the highly efficient hydraulic-driven cooling system and variable speed fan keeps the heat exchangers clean while maintaining the correct operating temperature range. This represents a big advantage in terms of uptime, as the work schedule is not interrupted due to overheating or frequent cleaning of the heat exchangers.

Furthermore, the new generation of RemoteLog has impressed Proteak’s analytics management team. The telematics system allows Proteak to gather relevant information, such as mechanical parameters and production metrics during all shifts regardless of how remote the operation is. Proteak can diagnose issues, predict maintenance requirements, and conduct preventive actions. “Tasks and data collecting that were complicated and took time to be done, can be achieved quickly based mostly on the RemoteLog parameters. It helps us enormously to organize machine interventions, optimize services and minimize downtime,” says Francis Ruiz, who manages the silviculture crew.

Currently, Proteak operates three Tigercat 630 series skidders in its eucalyptus harvesting operations. With the oldest unit approaching 35,000 operating hours, the machines have proven to be very reliable, providing the confidence for Proteak to invest in the new skidder-based concept for the silviculture application. The first of two 630H utility carriers rolled into Proteak’s facility last March and at first impression, it exceeded all expectations. In addition to the spacious cab, the machine brings the advantage of the Turnaround rotating seat, notably improving rearward visibility. “Our operators and I love them,” comments Francis.

Luis Pacheco also highlighted that the reliable structural and driveline components all contributed to the company’s decision to go with 630H for silviculture. “The transmission doesn’t overheat as the other tractors do. The articulation joint and axles are really built to last. What else would we expect from a hauler?”

The pair of 630H carriers has provided Proteak with a massive productivity boost. They are sturdier, stronger, and much faster than regular agricultural tractors, which in turn, makes them more productive and accurate. The productivity gains are significant. The two machines are averaging up to 130 ha (320 acres) per week, double the production of the three tractors they replaced. This production rate easily exceeds all productivity and performance expectations and assumptions.

When Latin Equipment Uruguay became aware of this purpose-built silviculture project, they showed interest in visiting the operation with the Kolbalsiuk family, one of the most experienced Uruguayan forestry contractors. In late April, Latin Equipment Uruguay S.A. MD, Gabriel Turturiello and commercial manager, Francisco Fros accompanied the Kolbalsiuks to learn about Proteak’s firsthand experiences with the new system. They also had the opportunity to compare the purpose-built carriers to the regular agricultural tractors that they are replacing.

Productivity and cost studies up to this point are demonstrating excellent results – increased productivity and a 30% reduction in fuel consumption. Latin Equipment takes pride in representing a company like Tigercat that continues to develop innovative products, cutting-edge technologies, and first-rate services to meet industry challenges. “The commitment to offer the best operational efficiency, aiming to reduce costs and generate higher productivity, always in accordance with sustainability guidelines, is a primary goal of Latin Equipment,” declares Gabriel.

Tigercat Iron

Proteak was the first company to buy Tigercat machines in Mexico. Today, the company owns fourteen machines – three mulchers and two silvicultural carriers, as well as three full-tree systems consisting of an 845 series track feller buncher, a 630 series skidder, and a grapple saw equipped T250 series loader.

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